The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Directed by Ben Stiller
Starring Ben Stiller and Kristen Wiig
Certificate PG 12
Way back in 1947 there was a movie with the same name starring Danny Kaye. Both films are based on the James Thurber short story but that is really all they have in common.
The early version was a madcap, zany slapstick style comedy giving the multi-talented Kaye an opportunity to gurn and overact through a series of fantasy adventures culminating in a plot development concerning a “real life” jewellery heist.
The new “Mitty” is a very different affair altogether.
Stiller plays a lonely downtrodden “schlub” who spends his entire day in the bowels of Life magazine processing and archiving photographic negatives. His one claim to fame is the relationship he has built with “old school” maverick photographer Sean O’Connell who refuses to embrace the technological age and lives a nomadic life style.
To alleviate his boredom Walter zones out at the most inopportune moments imagining himself as a dashing hero in all manner of guises.
He also develops a crush on new co-worker Cheryl but as he is too shy to approach her directly he joins E Harmony just so he can try and make contact. This provides a contrived little swerve later on in the film.
The staff of Life are summoned to a meeting where the ludicrous new Managing Director, Ted Hendricks (ably played by Adam Scott but in all fairness his beard should’ve got its own credit) informs them that the current issue will be the last before the magazine goes digital and most of the employees will be laid off.
He announces that the final cover photo has been taken by O’Connell and has been sent to Walter to process. This picture is supposedly the finest cover ever.
This is where the story actually takes off. When Walter can’t find the elusive “Negative 25” he embarks on an odyssey to find O’Connell and retrieve the missing cover shot. His mission takes him to Greenland, Iceland and Afghanistan and a series of incredible and totally unbelievable adventures ensue.
On theatrical release the film was a box office flop and it’s easy to see why. It is almost impossible to pigeon-hole. Ben Stiller is phenomenally successful as a comic actor, (The Fockers Trilogy, Zoolander, Dodgeball et al) but it is not a comedy. Amusing yes, funny no! It has elements of fantasy but it is not sci-fi. It has many dramatic moments but it’s not a drama and it has a romantic element but it’s not a love story. So advertising executive how do you market it and who to? The answer is – everyone.
I loved it. Not for the story which is contrived and truthfully rather silly but for all the other elements that make this a highly entertaining and accomplished body of work.
As both lead actor and Director Ben Stiller shows what a versatile talent he really is. His acting is perfectly pitched and the direction is immaculate. Kristen Wiig is spot on and cameos by Shirley Maclaine as Walter’s mum and Sean Penn as the elusive O’Connell are exceptional.
The cinematography is breath-taking, I can honestly say it is one of the most beautifully shot films I have ever seen and the soundtrack performs a real function rather than being background music. Watch out for the amazing version of David Bowie’s Space Oddity performed acoustically by Cheryl…simply lovely!
To me it was more a series of stunning vignettes than a cohesive narrative but nevertheless a visual feast.
It is also a genuine “family friendly” movie. I think that anybody from 8 to 80 will be entranced by this sadly underrated example of Hollywood at its best.
Rating 4 out of 5 stars.
If you liked this you’ll also like: Cloud Atlas, Inception, The Wizard of OZ, Donny Darko, Brick, Kick Ass